September 18, 2004

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Saturday, September 18, 2004

I'm here and well in Liuyang. Classes are going well for the most part, considering the school is only halfway built and I'm still wading through a construction pit to get to work everyday. However, there are walls now, and even some windows too, so really what more do you need? Most of the construction crew (migrant peasants) live at the school, in various semi-built rooms. It's always a little strange to be walking along to class and suddenly see someone's briefs strung up in a window to dry, flapping away in the breeze.

I teach 8 classes of Junior One level students, which roughly translates to 7th grade. I see them twice a week, and teach some additional "English Corners" on top of that. Sixty kids to a's been interesting, to say the least. The week before I started teaching, the other English teachers looked at my schedule and shook their heads and said something to the effect of "your students are very active." I didn't fully grasp what
they meant until my first day, when I had kids practically climbing out the windows. Most of them speak absolutely no English, so I'm starting with the ABC's and going from there. At any given point, I have 15 of them surrounding me, saying "hello" repeatedly, which is the only word they know.

I have one student who told me her name is Flag, one who will only answer to Michael Ben Jake Jordan, another boy named Plant...Some of my friends are teaching kids who have named themselves Rubbish, Genius, Bamboo Ice Queen, God, and Gorilla, to name a few. My only hope is that they never actually try to use those names in an English speaking country.

My Chinese teacher in Changsha had given me a Chinese name, Luo Lan. Many of my students have taken to calling me Miss Luo, since they seem to have trouble with the "r" in my English name. I was initially disappointed when my teacher told me that Lan meant "plant," which seemed really mundane. I was hoping for something more along the lines of a "Summer morning rain" or "Eternal peace and happiness." However, upon further consultation I learned that my name actually means "orchid," which I suppose I can live with.

The cockroaches seem to have left the building, only to be replaced with some lizards, which I found climbing the wall above my bed. I have been back to Changsha a couple of times to spend time with the other American teachers, stock up on my supply of Diet Coke and phone cards, and do other vital things, like get a toe massage. I had no idea a person could inflict so much pain in one toe.

This past weekend, the group celebrated a birthday at Pizza Hut--my first non-Chinese food experience in about a month, which was utterly satisfying. I never realized how much I've missed eating cheese and feeling that carb-induced coma. Oddly enough, Pizza Hut is something of a luxury restaurant here since it is so much more expensive than other places, and I've witnessed times when the line to get inside wraps around the block.

Last weekend, I stayed in Liuyang for a huge festival, sponsored by the Hunan Tourism Bureau. Over 100,000 people stood by the banks of the Liuyang River dressed in matching shirts and sang a song, appropriately enough entitled "Liuyang River." I went with my work unit of fellow teachers and was given a Chinese flag to wave in unison to the beat of the music--I felt like such a good patriotic Communist worker. Later that night, there was a massive fireworks display.

Each here day feels like an eternity. I wake up at 6am everyday to the sounds of the national anthem and go to sleep to the sounds of firecrackers. I've made quite a few friends, including some very funny women who have told me that they will be my Chinese mothers while I am over here, since I am so far from home. I hang out with the other foreign teachers at the school, two guys from Nigeria, and another American guy from my program who teaches at a different school in town. We all went out to the only club in Liuyang last weekend, and were treated to a bizarre show which included a magician, scantily clad women dancing to a Ricky Martin song, a darts game, a pole dancer, and a Chinese man with a mullet singing "I Will Always Love You". I think in the future I will stick to Changsha for the night life, although I think I might just accept the fact that I won't have a normal "going out" experience for a year.
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